Salwa Eid Naser wins world 400m title with third-fastest time ever, bold strategy

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Salwa Eid Naser had enough of chasing the towering Shaunae Miller-Uibo in the 400m. The Bahrain sprinter tried something different in, of all races, the world championships final.

“Normally, I chase,” she said. “Today, I wanted to be chased.”

The strategy switch for the biggest race of her life worked. The time: 48.14 seconds, the third-fastest lap in history and the fastest in 34 years.

Naser, a 21-year-old who broke out two years ago with world silver, stunned the favorite and Olympic champion Miller-Uibo of the Bahamas. Miller-Uibo, who petitioned the IAAF to change the 2020 Olympic schedule to accommodate a 200m-400m double, lost for the first time in more than two years at any distance.

Miller-Uibo took silver in a North American record 48.37 seconds. Less than an hour later, Miller-Uibo’s husband, Estonian Maicel Uibo, took silver in the decathlon after going into the 1500m finale surprisingly in the lead.

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In the women’s 400m, Miller-Uibo was followed by three women who lowered personal bests — bronze medalist Shericka Jackson of Jamaica and Americans Wadeline Jonathas and Phyllis Francis, the defending world champion.

The only women who have run faster than Naser, who was born Ebelechukwu Agbapuonwu in Nigeria to a Nigerian mother who sprinted and a Bahraini father, were dubious — East German Marita Koch (47.60) and Czechoslovakia’s Jarmila Kratochvilova (47.99).

But Miller-Uibo was the woman whom Naser chased the last two years — ranking second to her in 2018 and again this season going into Doha.

In fact, Naser’s only two losses since the 2017 Worlds were when she was runner-up to Miller-Uibo, once in 2017 and once in 2018. Naser lowered her national record in both of those defeats, but each time she came off the turn nearly even with the six-inches-taller Miller-Uibo, who powered past her in the final straightaway.

Naser was determined not to be caught in the same position as those two races or as in the 2017 World final, when she was fourth off the turn and passed a stumbling Miller-Uibo and Allyson Felix to grab silver.

This time, Naser made up the stagger on Jonathas in about 100 meters. Then she took aim at Miller-Uibo two lanes to her outside. She gapped her by the time they came around the 300-meter curve and lowered her national record by .94 of a second. Miller-Uibo had to do the chasing, and she ran out of track while still PRing by six tenths.

“Of course it was a surprise,” to beat Miller-Uibo, Naser said. “I already said thank you to [Miller-Uibo] because without her I don’t think I would have gone this fast.”

Miller-Uibo had no comment when asked if she considered Naser the legitimate world-record holder.

“I let her get away from me a little too much, but I got a huge PR so I have to be happy with that,” Miller-Uibo said. “She ran a crazy race.”

In other finals, Brit Katarina Johnson-Thompson dethroned reigning Olympic and world champion Nafi Thiam in the heptathlon. Johnson-Thompson, a former teen prodigy who failed to earn a medal at five previous Olympics and outdoor worlds, broke Jessica Ennis-Hill‘s British record with 6,981 points. Thiam took silver with 6,677.

German 21-year-old Niklas Kaul became the youngest world decathlon champion, moving from 11th after the first day to win with the second-highest day-two total in history (4,527 points). The only man with a better day-two total ever was French world-record holder Kevin Mayer, who withdrew Thursday during the pole vault with a hamstring injury.

The only Olympic decathlon champion who was younger was Bob Mathias, who earned his first of back-to-back titles in 1948 at age 17.

China’s Gong Lijiao repeated as world champion in the shot put, throwing 19.55 meters. Gong was the only woman in the world to throw 20 meters in 2017, 2018 and again this year. U.S. Oympic champion Michelle Carter was ninth.

Worlds continue Friday, highlighted by an American showdown in the women’s 400m hurdles, where a world record could fall.

In Thursday semifinals, favorites Faith Kipyegon of Kenya, Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands and Americans Shelby Houlihan and Jenny Simpson advanced to Saturday’s 1500m final.

Kipyegon, the reigning Olympic and world champion, is coming back from pregnancy. Hassan, who broke the mile world record in July, is attempting an unprecedented 10,000m-1500m double gold.

NBC Olympics senior researcher Alex Azzi contributed to this report from Doha.

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Blake Leeper, Olympic hopeful double amputee, has prosthetics ruled ineligible

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Blake Leeper, a double amputee who finished fifth in the 2019 USATF Outdoor Championships 400m, had his prosthetic legs ruled ineligible for major international able-bodied competition such as the Olympics.

World Athletics made the ruling as part of a months-long case that will go on. Leeper confirmed Thursday morning a Washington Post report that he is appealing.

A World Athletics review group “concluded that Mr. Leeper had not established that his prostheses do not provide him with an overall competitive advantage,” according to a World Athletics statement. “Under the current rule [introduced in 2015], the burden of proof lies with the athlete to show that prostheses do not provide them with an overall competitive advantage.”

Leeper, a 2012 Paralympic medalist, sprints fast enough to be a contender for the U.S. Olympic team, should he be deemed eligible. A fifth-place finisher in the 400m at nationals usually makes an Olympic or world team for the 4x400m relay.

But when Leeper recorded that finish in Des Moines last summer, he was running under conditional allowance while his World Athletics case was ongoing. He was not ultimately selected to race at worlds last fall.

World Athletics said then that his nationals results would not be ratified because he had not proven that his legs did not provide “an overall competitive advantage over an athlete not using such aid.”

Leeper’s case is reminiscent of South African Oscar Pistorius.

Pistorius won a legal battle to race on his prosthetics at the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics in the 400m with a personal best of 45.07. He was eliminated in the semifinals at both meets.

Leeper lowered his personal best to 44.38 seconds at nationals, a time that would have easily made the 2016 Olympic team.

“They keep changing the rules,” Leeper, who has been coached by, among others, Super Bowl champion wide receiver Willie Gault, said last summer. “For somebody to try to dictate and tell me how tall I should be or whatever I should be running on I think is just really unfair.”

In 2018, the International Paralympic Committee said Leeper was running on invalid blades for its record purposes because he had yet to be classified under a new maximum allowable standing height (MASH) formula.

Michael Norman, the world’s fastest 400m sprinter last year, said he had no issue racing with Leeper. But others in the past, when Pistorius became the first double amputee to race at worlds and the Olympics, said they wouldn’t have been so sure had Pistorius been running the kind of times that Leeper posted in recent years.

“Walk a mile in my legs,” Leeper said of those who believe he has a competitive advantage. “Understand the things that I go through as a double-leg amputee. There’s some days my legs are swollen, they’re sore, they’re bleeding, they’re bruised. I can’t even have the strength to put ’em on to walk to the bathroom.

“Anybody that faces a disability, to actually look them in the face and say they have an advantage is just crazy to me. I guarantee if that’s the case, you’ll see a lot more people amputating their legs and coming and trying to qualify for the U.S. trials.”

Leeper was born without lower legs and has used prosthetics since he was a toddler. He earned 200m bronze and 400m silver (behind Pistorius) in his class at the 2012 London Paralympics, then served a cocaine ban.

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Chad le Clos seeks Sun Yang’s Olympic gold medal for doping case

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NAPLES, Italy (AP) — Chad le Clos believes he has a claim on Sun Yang’s gold medal from the Rio Olympics, with a verdict imminent on the Chinese swimmer’s latest doping case.

“He should be banned. It’s as simple as that,” Le Clos said in an interview with The Associated Press this week. “Anyone who tests positive should be banned. I should get my gold medal back from Rio.

“Not for the moment. I lost that. I don’t really care about that,” Le Clos added on Wednesday. “It’s just for my record. If I break my leg and I can’t swim again I want my record to say, ‘Two individual golds, two individual silvers.’ Because that’s what it should be.”

Le Clos’ Olympic record currently contains one gold medal and three silvers — including a second-place finish to Sun in the Rio Olympic 200m free

Odds are, though, that Sun won’t lose any Olympic titles when the Court of Arbitration for Sport issues its ruling over his alleged refusal to provide blood and urine in September 2018 in a visit by sample collectors to his home in China. During the late-night confrontation, a security guard used a hammer to smash a container holding Sun’s blood as the swimmer lit the scene with his mobile phone.

The World Anti-Doping Agency appealed after swimming federation FINA merely warned Sun and cited doubts about credentials shown by three sample collection officials.

A three-time Olympic champion, Sun could be banished from the sport for up to eight years but any ban likely won’t be backdated before September 2018 — meaning all of his Olympic medals seem safe.

But there’s also the fact that international swimming authorities worked to protect Sun from being banned, according to a Swiss supreme court document.

FINA has faced criticisms in the past for favoring Sun during his career. It did not announce Sun’s three-month ban for doping imposed by Chinese authorities until after it ended in 2014.

“I just hope the system and whatever we have is really accurate,” said Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszú, who won three golds in Rio. “I just hope the decisions they are making is fair and is for the sport and not for other reasons.”

The medals that Sun risks losing most are the two golds that he won at last year’s world championships in the 200m and 400m frees. At the event in Gwangju, South Korea, fellow medalists Mack Horton of Australia and Duncan Scott of Britain refused to stand with him on the podium.

Sun has denied any wrongdoing. Any ban imposed in the coming days would likely prevent him from competing at this year’s Tokyo Olympics.

“I have nothing against anybody. It’s not personal,” Le Clos said. “It’s just how the world should be. If you cheat or if you do something wrong, like if you false start, you get disqualified. It’s simple as that.”

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